With the weather warming up, the Ministry of Environment is reminding residents to be "bear aware."
Black bears are found throughout most of the province, including the Southeast. Matthew Tokaruk, black bear biologist with the Ministry of Environment, said that black bears can come in a variety of colors, including blonde, shades of brown, cinnamon, or black most often.
In the Southeast, Tokaruk said the black bear population is stable. "There certainly are bears around in that part of the province, particularly when you get up towards Moose Mountain Park and The Qu'Appelle Valley in particular."
In speaking with conservation officers in the Weyburn area, Tokaruk said that there have been a few black bears around intermittently, so it's certainly possible to encounter them, especially along creeks or valleys where there's adequate cover.
"This time of year, we can see dispersing individuals. So that's younger animals that have been kind of booted from home, so to speak. They can be traveling long distances this time of year, setting up new territories and they're often the bears that can kind of get into trouble sometimes as well."
As black bears emerge from hibernation in search of food, they can become a threat to public safety. Tokaruk said the biggest thing with black bears is attractant management.
"Bears are really driven by their stomachs and food is everything for them. So if we can keep our yards, campsites, and cottages free of attractants. That's anything that smells good to us, it smells good to bears. Keep your BBQ clean, keep your garbage in the bin and make sure it's removed regularly, same with recycling."
Tokaruk continued, "Keep your pet food inside when it isn't needed to be outside and take your bird feeders down this time of year, especially those sugary ones. Hummingbird food can be a strong attractant at times and so can oil seeds."
Ensuring fish and meats are not going into your compost really helps a lot, Tokaruk added. "It keeps bears from getting in a situation where they're habituated to human foods and then in the case where they did become habituated, they would become a nuisance and possibly a threat to human safety."
If you're out hiking or wandering around and you do encounter a bear, Tokaruk said to stay calm, because generally speaking that bear is going to turn the other way.
"He doesn't want to be there around you either. In most situations, that's what will happen. You'll see a bear on the trail and it's probably going the other way already. Don't feed or approach bears or cubs, that's an important thing as well. In fact, that's a new regulation in the province a couple of years ago, it's now illegal to feed or leave food for bears and other dangerous wildlife."
Tokaruk emphasized to make a wide detour and back away if you do encounter a bear while you're out wandering around, speak in low tones, don't look directly at the bear, and it's always best to hike in groups and be making noise.
"Move towards a vehicle or a building, you know, some cover is important. Just keep in mind where that would be. Don't climb trees, black bears are very good climbers."
If a bear does start following you or maintaining interest in you, Tokaruk stressed how rare that is, "but if it does happen, you can drop perhaps a hat or a jacket just to distract that animal as you keep moving away."
"That's the time when you want to have your bear spray out and and we do encourage people to carry bear spray when they're out in bear country. It does work very well if you use it. In the exceptionally rare scenario, and I really want to stress how rare this is, that a black bear makes contact with you or attacks, do defend yourself and do fight back."
If there is a situation with aggressive or nuisance wildlife, Tokaruk said the public can call the Turn in Poachers and Polluters (TIPP) line at 1-800-667-7561.
To report concerns about nuisance bears, the public can call the Ministry of Environment at 1-800-567-4224 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If there is a situation where there's an imminent threat to public safety, the public should call 911.
Tokaruk added, "I think it's important for folks to just remember that cautious respect for wildlife. There's no need to be afraid per se. We want people out enjoying the outdoors, of course, a beautiful time of year to be outside, and just remember that cautious respect and be aware of your surroundings and stay safe."